Life Coach, Sayeda Habib explores how one can bring the ego into balance and achieve peace within ourselves.
Draw your attention inwards and ask yourself, “What makes me special and unique in this world?” Let the answers flow and pay attention to them. Where do you think these answers are coming from? They are coming from your memories of your experiences, the things you’ve been good/not good at, and all the things you remember achieving/failing at etc. All of these answers are coming from the sense of who you are, which in psychological terms is referred to as the ego. Usually, our first reaction to the word ‘ego’ is a negative one as we are trained to think of the ego as a terrible thing. However, the ego is an important part of being a human being, so it makes sense to explore what it is.
Imagine that you’ve stepped outside your home to go somewhere, and all of a sudden something is different. Suddenly you can hear every single sound around you, and it’s deafening. You see everything in minute detail and you have 360-degree vision. What do you think might happen? It will be too much information and you will feel overloaded. You will want it to stop immediately! Our senses have information coming at us all the time, yet we don’t notice most of it as the mind automatically filters most of it out. It only takes in what we need to know in order to live a productive life day to day.
The purpose of the ego is to help an individual to create and maintain his or her own identity and sense of self.
Subhan Allah, the human mind has the amazing ability to filter and sort through our experiences to help us understand the world. Each time we experience something new, our minds will make sense of it and file it for future reference. This process begins when we are very young and continues throughout life. Each new experience either gets compared with something that already happened, or the mind creates a process begins it.
So, what is the ego? The ‘ego’ is the term that is used to describe the collection of all the beliefs that a person holds about herself and the world. For example, I am Muslim, I am smart, I am kind, people are good/ bad, the world is a wonderful place may be a very small part of all the beliefs a person has.
Imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have an understanding of what we liked, or didn’t like, or if we didn’t know what is right or wrong for us, or if we didn’t have any goals or aims. We would lack direction, we wouldn’t know what we wanted, and life wouldn’t hold meaning. The thoughts and beliefs that we have about the world and ourselves are necessary for us to live a purposeful life; and because of that, the ego is a necessary part of every human being. The purpose of the ego is to help an individual to create and maintain his or her own identity and sense of self.
The ego is a necessary part of us, but it needs to be kept in balance. The aim of the ego is to help us to feel separate from others, to have a sense of uniqueness, which is important, but we do need to maintain it at a healthy level. If it is unhealthy or excessive, it can manifest in negative behaviour and damage our relationships. An excessive ego is what we see in someone who is rather ‘full of themselves ‘or very angry, bitter or resentful. So, let’s explore what the ego does that can be negative, and look at some solutions to bring it into balance.
Strategy 1: The ego is always thinking!
Close your eyes and listen to the voice in your head. You ask, “What voice in my head? “The voice that said those very words is the voice I am referring to. We all have an internal dialogue within us. At times it’s as loud as a radio, and at other times it may be very quiet or almost absent. It is estimated that we have over 50,000 thoughts every single day, though we are not conscious of most of them. The majority of our thoughts could be negative or positive, depending on our life circumstances at that particular time. Normally, this is not an issue. The mind does what it does, and we still get on with life. However, there may be times when you can’t get the voice to quieten down. Think of the last restless night you had, or times when you were stressed about your situation. These are all signs that the ego is taking over, and it needs to be quietened down.
A solution: In those moments stop what you are doing. Sit down, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Focus your attention on your breath, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As thoughts come, just allow them to drift by. Do this for at least five minutes. Making this a regular practice will help us calm our minds and our bodies, insha Allah.
Strategy 2: The ego identifies with things
Think back to the last time you had to go to a wedding or a special gathering. How much time did you spend on deciding what to wear? Were you worried about overdressing, or under-dressing? Did you worry about other people being better dressed, or perhaps having better jewellery than you? Did you not go somewhere because you had ‘nothing to wear’ for the occasion?
The second strategy the ego uses is that it convinces us that our things make us special or give our lives meaning. The ego in us motivates us to work harder for that promotion, to better our lifestyle, or ensure our kids have the best education possible. The ego in us helps us move our lives forward, but if it goes out of balance, it can cause distress. Do you know someone who wants the new house, the new car, the new outfit, just because their friends have it? And if they don’t have it, they feel sorry for themselves? Another indication is when people use ‘retail therapy’ to lift their spirits every time they feel low.
If we find ourselves in a situation where we have a good lifestyle, but we still feel upset about not having something material, then we may need to explore how to bring our ego back into balance, in order to have a more fulfilling and peaceful life.
Solution: Give away something you truly love and still use. We can loosen our attachment to things by giving things away, and appreciating what we have.
Strategy 3: An imbalanced ego needs to compare
Think back to the most significant obstacle you have ever overcome. How did it feel to succeed? When you solve a problem, you naturally feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel good about yourself. The ego’s job is to help a person feel good about themselves, which is important for maintaining a healthy sense of self. However, one strategy that we may use to feel good about ourselves is to compare ourselves to others. A very common example is among siblings who are constantly competing with one another. Also, if we find ourselves being very critical of others, thinking that we can do better, then that is a sign that our ego may be out of balance. An imbalanced ego will need to put other people down in order to help the individual feel good about his own self.
Solution: Create an achievement list. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to write down all that you did well that day; it can be something small, or something important. Starting to notice our own achievements builds confidence and reduces the need to compare. Keep this practice going and, over time, it will become a productive habit.
Having a balanced, healthy sense of self is critical to us leading a purposeful and fulfilling life.lnsha Allah, by implementing a few simple strategies, we can achieve this sense of fulfilment and build lives we truly love.